Think back to the ’80s, before the existence of iPods, home computers, electric telephones, home theatres, gaming stations (all right, there was Nintendo). Although our appliances consumed a lot more electricity per unit than the ones we use now, we used a lot less electricity per household because there wasn’t as much electronic stuff. How many of us actually think about how we’re increasing our plug load when we buy a new electronic gadget?
So, now that you know how much electricity you’re using and where you’re using it (from my previous two articles), you can probably identify some of your home’s major electronic consumers. But there’s another piece of the puzzle that many people don’t even consider, which is human behaviour. You can have all the efficient lighting in the world, a programmable thermostat for your heat, Energy Star rated auto shut-off power bars, but if you’re not using the equipment properly, they’re not giving you the benefits you bought them for in the first place.
In addition to the obvious things like turning off TVs, printers, and computers when you leave a room, there are other less obvious behaviour items to check for, such as:
- Programmable Thermostats. Do you know how to program your programmable thermostat and have you done so? If you haven’t, pull out the instruction book and do it. You can save significantly on your air conditioning bill by raising the temperature by 3-4 degrees while you’re out at work or away on weekends. Did you also know that when you set your home’s temperature to cooler for when you return to your home at the end of the day, your thermostat triggers the “recovery” mode early enough in the cycle so that by the time you’re home the house has reached the desired temperature setting? In other words, don’t worry about setting it for a cooler temperature half an hour before you get home, the thermostat takes care of the temperature difference well in advance. If you’re really comfortable with your programmable thermostat and you’re away on weekends, either turn it off, or set the temperature a few degrees higher for the weekends. While you won’t notice, you’ll be happier with your electricity bill.
- Extra and/or Older Electronics not in use. As I mentioned earlier, we have a lot more devices plugged into our homes than we did 20 years ago. So many, in fact that it probably doesn’t even occur to you what kind of plug load you’re adding when you buy a new electronic device. Now, with a critical eye go through each room in your house and look at the electronics that are a constant drain on electricity and don’t even get used. Do you have a digital clock running in a guest room you never go into? An old VCR plugged in you haven’t used in years (and may even still be flashing 12?), how many phones are cordless? Can you switch a few that are rarely used over to the old and quaint corded models? It’s a good idea to have at least one of these phones in use in the event of a power outage if you still have a land line.
- Appliances. The extra 25-year-old fridge or freezer you’ve been using for as a drinks fridge or extra food sucks up a lot of extra money, so much money that you might be better off getting rid of it and investing in a more efficient second fridge or freezer or trying to make do without. If your washer and dryer are older than 15 years, you might want to consider buying new Energy Star rated ones. They save on water and electricity and dry your clothes faster. Are there appliances like the coffee maker, microwave, etc. that you don’t need them plugged in when not in use? Do you use the timer on your coffeemaker? Does the microwave need to be plugged in all the time? Look for savings to be had which involve nothing more than unplugging appliances not in use. This is particularly true for smaller appliances that have LCD clocks/displays.
- Chargers. Unplug all chargers, cellphone or otherwise, when not in use. This is an easy step to talk about, but apparently a difficult one to achieve. The amount of power that’s wasted is estimated to be between 10-15% of your overall electricity bill. An easy action to think about doing, probably more difficult to achieve until you’ve developed the habit.
- Shutdown/Turn off. Turn off devices, lights, computer, printers, etc., when not in use. How do we get our kids to remember to do this? If anyone has some suggestions, I’d love to know. I’m fortunate that I work from home because our electricity bill would be significantly higher if I left the house before my teenagers. Lights stay on all over the house after they’ve left for school in the morning (and yes, cellphone chargers also stay plugged in too). I’ve told them a thousand times to turn off lights when they leave a room, but since there are no consequences for leaving them on, they ignore me. Maybe I’ve got to start handing them an electric bill at the end of each month to get their attention.
- Do exterior doors stay open during extreme weather so you feel like your father yelling “stop heating the neighbourhood!” Make sure your family closes doors to keep your home’s temperature constant. Also, keep doors to unused rooms closed and vents blocked to make cooling and heating more efficient.
Monitor your family’s behaviour patterns over a few days, make notes about any glaring issues you see. If there are easy fixes to make such as unplugging appliances that are never in use, do it, but don’t worry about making changes now, the next article is about creating and implementing an action plan.